Privatization forums proposed

By Cheryl Miller
Record Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Mayor Gary Podesto has called for eight nights of public forums on the city's proposed water utilities privatization deal in response to calls from fellow council members and contract skeptics for more public participation.

The post-holiday meetings, if approved by the City Council, would be held on the following dates:

* Jan. 15: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Jim Binder and Anthony Cerasuolo, consultants hired by the city, will be available to answer specific questions on the contract.

* Jan. 16-17: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

* Jan. 22-24: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

* Jan. 27: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

* Jan. 29: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The sessions will be held at Stockton's City Hall, 425 N. El Dorado Street.

The proposed work sessions, Podesto said, will allow the council and the public to conduct "an in-depth review" of a 20-year contract with OMI-Thames for operations control of Stockton's water, wastewater and stormwater utilities.

The City Council last week authorized its administrators to negotiate a final contract with OMI-Thames, a move that could lead to a council vote on the multi-million dollar pact by early February.

Podesto has said repeatedly the public has had adequate time and opportunity to review the privatization process and deal.

"We get frustrated because, I think, we're answering over and over and over again the same questions," the mayor said. "I've just got to be more patient. We'll answer them and we'll answer them and we'll answer them."

Sylvia Kothe, chairwoman of the Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton, which gathered more than 18,000 signatures to put the privatization issue on the March ballot, questioned whether the meetings were scheduled too closely together in an attempt to end public comment and have the council approve a contract before voters can have a say.

"It sounds like it's a rush to get everything done. What is it, eight days?" Kothe said. She's concerned residents won't be able to spend that many consecutive days in hearings.

Cheryl Miller, phone 546-8252 or e-mail cmiller@recordnet.com